On the tenth anniversary of *that* Thierry Henry handball, has VAR gone too far?

It’s an indication of what an emotive night November 18th, 2009 was for (Irish) football that the tenth anniversary of that night has overshadowed somewhat the build-up to November 18th, 2019 and what is another huge night for Irish football.

The Republic of Ireland host Denmark this Monday, November 18th at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, knowing that a win will book a place at the 2020 European Championships (assuming Switzerland don’t draw with Gibraltar) where Ireland will play two matches in Dublin. This would of course have major economic and other spin-off benefits for Ireland, as well as the optics of not wanting to host a party (a total of four European Championship matches in summer 2020) that you’re not invited to!

November 18th, 2009 was of course however the night that Thierry Henry deliberately handled the ball (twice) to setup William Gallas who headed into an empty net to score for France and ultimately knock the Republic of Ireland out of qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

The rhetoric at the time (particularly from an Irish demographic that felt very sorry for itself) was that Henry was a horrible individual, a cheat and much stronger/more offensive terms used to chastise the then Barcelona star. Henry was further pilloried for years afterwards, even receiving death threats in the aftermath and is still reviled in some (mainly Irish) quarters.

Speaking immediately after the match, Henry said: “The ball bounced off my hand. I’m not the referee. He didn’t blow his whistle, so I kept going.”

For me, those words from Henry are difficult if not impossible to argue with. Virtually any professional footballer would have acted similarly to Henry in such circumstances. Included among them was Damien Duff, who immediately after that fateful match in Paris back in November 2009 said tearfully: “You’d have to chance it. You’d try your luck and see if you could get away with it.”

In many ways, missing out on a World Cup in such circumstances, is the worst injustice in football. For me, the World Cup is football’s greatest stage and to miss out on football’s greatest stage by such a fine margin and in such unjust circumstances, is the ultimate footballing injustice. At least if you’re a victim of an injustice while playing at the World Cup, you’re still there, you’re still at the greatest show.

When the millions of people watching that match on television could see Henry’s (double) handball infringement on replays within seconds of the incident occurring, the argument became from many that there should be video replays/video technology in elite football so as to help the match officials to make decisions.

There are of course arguments for and against a Video Assistant Referee (VAR). FIFA argued at the time and for some years before and after that VAR would widen the gap between elite level football and grassroots football (which obviously will never have VAR).

VAR has however come in now into many major football leagues and was used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the 2019 Women’s World Cup and other major tournaments. For some, this is great. They feel that elements of doubt will be removed from football and all major decisions will be decided accurately and fairly.

There are definitely serious issues surrounding VAR however. Last weekend, Sheffield United played Tottenham Hotspur at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Republic of Ireland and Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick thought he had equalized just two minutes after Son Heung-min’s 58th minute opener for Spurs, but VAR replays showed that John Lundstram’s big toe had been marginally offside in the build-up to United’s goal – a decision that was so close it took almost four minutes to make.

The officials in the VAR room used many different angles and several differently aligned rulers to eventually come to the decision. When an offside is that marginal, surely the attacking team deserves the benefit of the doubt? I say that as a former goalkeeper.

Sheffield United eventually did equalize in the 78th minute of that game and the final score was 1-1 on the day. Goals change games however and McGoldrick’s disallowed strike might well have cost The Blades two points which could be crucial come the end of the season.

Has VAR gone too far? When applied to the English Premier League – and taking up to four minutes to make a decision – with players, coaches and fans in the ground not knowing exactly what’s happening in the interim of an incident that has been referred to VAR? In that case, I believe very much that VAR has gone too far.

It’s been announced over the last few days that Premier League fans will get more details about VAR checks starting from next month. The decision was agreed by the Premier League and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) at a stakeholder meeting this week.

For me, these changes don’t go far enough. The Premier League waited extra time to bring VAR into it. They looked at what happened in the World Cup, other tournaments and rugby. They’re still not up to speed with what other countries and other leagues are doing however.

It is essential for the fans in the stadium to be aware of what’s going on. The fans in the stadium are the most important stakeholders in football. At the moment, they have no idea what is going on when a VAR referral is made (which can often take up to four minutes).

Those watching on television are also of course significant stakeholders in football. In terms of an offside that is referred to VAR, for example, the red and blue lines that are seen on our television screens are just an indication. They are not exactly the same images as the VAR decision makers are seeing due to pixilation.

Should VAR be used in football at all however? For me, the most emotive and iconic football moments have tended to occur in international football, particularly at the World Cup. At the 1982 World Cup, had VAR been in use, West German goalkeeper Harold Schumacher would likely have been sent off for his horrific full frontal charge on French substitute Patrick Battiston in the 60th minute of that year’s semi-final (pictured above) which knocked the Frenchman unconscious and broke his ribs.

In the sweltering Seville heat, with the West Germans down to ten men and with the skills of French captain Michel Platini, the French would likely have gone on to win. Instead the French lost the World Cup’s first ever penalty shoot-out with Schumacher crucially saving two spot-kicks which saw the West Germans progress to the final.

Had VAR been in use at that 1982 World Cup however, we would have been denied one of football’s iconic moments and greatest celebrations. That was of course Marco Tardelli’s eyes bulging and maniacally racing exultation (pictured below) after he had scored to put the Italians 2-0 ahead late on in that 1982 World Cup final against the West Germans and on their way to lift the trophy. Tardelli’s team-mate Gaetano Scirea was of course offside in the build-up to that goal, an incident which VAR would almost certainly have spotted.

There are of course a myriad of other historical footballing “injustices” that VAR would have seen and ruled on.

Do refereeing mistakes “even themselves out” over the course of a game? Over the course of a season? Over the course of a career? Probably not.

For me however, VAR removes a lot of the drama, emotion and excitement from a footballing occasion. If a goal is scored, or other similarly dramatic incident these days, players and fans often have to wait a few minutes before the technology is consulted until they can celebrate. In my opinion, that removes a lot of the spontaneous joy of a major footballing moment.

Had Thierry Henry’s handball which led to that decisive goal been ruled out back in 2009 and France had gone on to win the (likely) resulting penalty shootout, would we still be talking about that night ten years on, a moment and a night which evokes emotion to this day? No, we wouldn’t still be talking about it. Had Ireland won the likely resulting penalty shootout and had an average World Cup, exiting at the group stage or the early knockout rounds as would surely have transpired, that night back on November 18th, 2009 would be a small footnote in the annals of international football.

Instead it’s one of the most famous, talked about and, for Irish football fans, emotional nights in football history. At its purest, isn’t that what football is all about?Ireland squad and fans in Paris

“He can sing, play football and he’s good looking ‘n’ all!”

Mick McCarthy post NZMick McCarthy was in good spirits at tonight’s post match press conference following the Republic of Ireland 3-1 friendly win over New Zealand, but the Ireland manager is well aware that Denmark on Monday night will be a radically different proposition.

Asked to summarize Ireland’s performance tonight, McCarthy said: “I could see their goal coming. We had a lot of the ball in the first half but we didn’t do anything with it.

“In the second-half we dominated and could have scored more.”

On Troy Parrott:
“Troy did okay. He didn’t set the world alight but I was very pleased with him. He ran the channels well.

“He can handle himself. He tracked back, tackled their centre-half hard after being on the receiving end of some rough stuff. It was a welcome to mens’ football and he didn’t let anyone bully him.

“He appears to be someone very confident in his ability. He trains that way. He sung last night (at his initiation into the team). He’s a good singer – and he’s a good singer too! He can play football and he’s good looking, where did it all go wrong for him?!”

On Seáni Maguire and others who did well tonight:
“Seani Maguire played well. Brownie (Alan Browne) and Josh Cullen played well.

“Kevin Long played well, he looks like he’s playing every week for his club. Whatever he’s doing, fair play to him.”

On Robbie Brady:
“He did some good things, some not so good things. He needed a game. The 90 minutes will benefit him.”

The manager was non-committal on whether the fact that Brady played the full 90 minutes tonight means that he won’t play on Monday night against Denmark.

On Derrick Williams:
“I thought Derrick was excellent. He’s a left-sided centre-back and he’s done very well. I’ve been very impressed with Derrick. It was a great header for his goal tonight. I took him off because his calf tied up.”

On Carl Robinson:
“I think his best slot is on the left. It’s unfortunate for him that we have lots whose best slots is on the left.”

On debutant Lee O’Connor:
“That’s as good a cross as we’ve put in and Robbo was delighted he put that one across. Lee didn’t do much wrong overall.”

On Jack Byrne:
“Jack did fine. With the ball, using the ball. Off the ball, he’s improved no end. We’ve been showing him bits. Yeah, I was pleased with Jack.”

Mick McCarthy’s take from tonight:
“We’ve had four full debuts tonight. Three players have scored their first international goal. Will it make any difference to what happens next Monday night? I don’t know, but any positive going into Monday night is a good thing. Denmark is a completely different fixture, they’ve lost one of their last 31 matches, this was New Zealand’s first match in 18 months.”

“The best feeling I’ve had in football”

Parrott amended

Troy Parrott said it was the best feeling he’s had in football and enjoyed the occasion as he played an important role in Ireland’s 3-1 come-from-behind win over New Zealand tonight.

The Dubliner provided an assist for Seáni Maguire to give Ireland the lead in the second-half.

Troy said he felt he played well.

The manager congratulated him on debut, the 17 year-old said: “It was unbelievable just to be out there.”

He says this experience will benefit him in the Under-21s, “if I go back down.”

“I felt unlucky that I didn’t come away with a goal but I’m happy to get an assist.”

Parrott says he’s happy with the strides he’s made this season and hopes to advance more this season and force his way into the Spurs starting XI.





Deserved come-from-behind win for Ireland as former Cork City man Maguire nets first Ireland goal in a man-of-the-match performance

MaguireDespite undeservedly going behind on the half-hour, Derrick Williams with a towering header, Seáni Maguire with another cracker from distance and Callum Robinson also with his first international goal sealed a deserved win for Ireland.

The All-Whites kicked off against Ireland who are wearing a smart new all-bottle green kit.

Troy Parrott becomes, at 17, the youngest Irish international since Robbie Keane in an Irish side hoping to find a solution to a goalscoring problem never really resolved since Keane’s retirement.

Parrott has a couple of early involvements but he is on the end of some heavy handed Kiwi defending.

Parrott is put through on goal in the fifth minute but he is flagged for offside before he can play the ball past visiting keeper Marinovic.

Jack Byrne looks lively, seeking – and getting the ball regularly and pinging good 10-15 yard passes.

A nice ball around the corner from Browne finds Williams who should have scored but he plays his 15 yard effort well wide.

Ireland have a penalty shout on 17 minutes when, following a free-flowing move, Byrne finds Brady who plays in Parrott who is shoved in the back by Boxall. Referee Robert Jenkins waves play on however to the anger of the home crowd.

Maguire is played in by a good long ball over the top from Long which is misjudged by Boxall but the goalkeeper makes a good stop. The ball falls to Williams but nothing comes of it.

Ireland should be at least one up midway through the first half. Ireland goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara must be feeling the chill.

Byrne has a chance when played in by Parrott but can’t convert from ten yards out.

Williams makes a great last ditch tackle and O’Hara punches clear the follow-up as the All-Whites make their first penetrative attack in the 26th minute.

New Zealand take the lead very much against the run of play on the half hour when Wood finds Cacace who plays the ball across for Callum McCowatt to tap into the empty net from eight yards out and score on his debut.

Brady plays a high ball into the six yard box but Maguire was never likely to win the header.

Maguire then comes close from an unmarked header six yard out but his effort flashes a yard wide.

Derrick Williams scores a deserved equalizer for Ireland on the stroke of half-time with a towering header from Brady’s corner from eight yards out into the bottom corner of the net.

Seáni Maguire scores his first senior international goal early in the second half. When a scramble just outside the box finds the former Cork City man he finds the top corner of the net from more than 20 yards out.

Callum O’Dowda comes on for goalscorer Williams after 55 minutes.

Byrne finds Maguire in acres of space before he’s closed down but he plays in Parrott. The advancing Marinovic does very well to block the Dubliner’s effort.

On the hour mark, Thomas runs through the heart of the Irish defence, avoiding two would be tacklers before striking a tame-ish 20 yard effort which O’Hara scoops into danger but O’Connor clears.

Another pair of substitutions for the home side as Robinson and Judge replace Parrott and Byrne on 62 minutes.

Goalkeeper Marinovic makes another good save from Maguire who had more time than he realised when found in space ten yards out.

The changes continue as goalkeeper O’Hara makes way for Mark Travers and it’s one Corkman for another as Conor Hourihane replaces Alan Browne on 65 minutes.

Marinovic forced into another save, this time from Robinson, though he would have been disappointed to be beaten at his near post.

Goascorer Maguire is replaced in the 73rd minute by James Collins as New Zealand make a pair of substitutions themselves.

Robinson wraps up the win with his first goal for Ireland in the 75th minute with a close range header from a fantastic O’Connor cross.

Travers is forced into a late save. Meanwhile it’s opposite number Marinovic who was definitely New Zealand’s best player on the night as Seáni Maguire earns the man of the match award, though it was a very good display all round by Ireland.

All eyes now turn to Monday night and the make-or-break clash with old rivals Denmark. How many of tonight’s team will feature in four days’ time? Probably not many but manager Mick McCarthy definitely has options going into that game.

Republic of Ireland: Kieran O’Hara (Mark Travers 65); Lee O’Connor, Kevin Long, Ciaran Clark, Derrick Williams (Callum O’Dowda 55 mins); Alan Browne (Conor Hourihane 65), Jack Byrne (Alan Judge 62), Josh Cullen, Robbie Brady (c); Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson 62), Seáni Maguire (James Collins 73).

New Zealand: Marinovic, Reid (c), Cacace, Boxall, Bell, Wood, Singh, McCowatt, Thomas (McGlinchey 75), Roux, Just.

Attendance: 18,728

Referee: Robert Jenkins (Wales)

Mick McCarthy names Irish starting team 24 hours before New Zealand friendly; Parrott and Byrne to start

Mick McCarthy will send a much-changed Republic of Ireland side into friendly fare against unfamiliar foe New Zealand (it’s the first time Ireland have played the Kiwis) tomorrow night with one eye on Monday’s UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying showdown with Denmark.

McCarthy has taken what is for him the unusual step of naming his starting XI some 24 hours before the match. The fact that this lineup is quite exciting and therefore might attract more people to attend, might be part of the reason.

Seventeen-year-old Troy Parrott will start at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

Celtic’s Lee O’Connor will also be pitched in for his senior international debut, while Shamrock Rovers playmaker Jack Byrne will get to build on his September cameo against Bulgaria by figuring in the starting XI.

There will be particular attention on Parrott, who will be the youngest player to make his debut since Robbie Keane was thrown in against Czech Republic by Mick McCarthy in 1998.

McCarthy says it’s too early to make bold statements about Parrott, while stressing that he had impressed in training with one turn and shot on the Abbotstown pitch on Tuesday, which gave an indication that he was “something special.”

The Irish manager said: “It doesn’t take a special kind to be pitched in. It takes a special kind to thrive, to do well, to make a good impression and impress everybody. I hope that’s going to be the case with Troy.

“He’s a bright, intelligent footballer who is good with the ball at his feet. I think he’s found it tough enough, the sessions. He was understandably breathing hard after he trained with us. He hasn’t played in a few weeks (since scoring four v Red Star Belgrade on October 22 in the UEFA Youth League).”

McCarthy will also give first starts to Kieran O’Hara and Josh Cullen tomorrow night.

Speaking of full debutant Jack Byrne, McCarthy said: “It’s not Denmark by any stretch of the imagination but New Zealand are treating it as a big international game and for Jack it will be, to showcase what he’s got. He’s done so much better in the last 12 months, in terms of his all round game. Maybe I’ve influenced it and TC (Terry Connor) has.”

Republic of Ireland starting XI v New Zealand:
Kieran O’Hara; Lee O’Connor, Kevin Long, Ciaran Clark, Derrick Williams; Josh Cullen, Jack Byrne, Alan Browne, Robbie Brady; Troy Parrott, Seáni Maguire. 

Cork City’s Oran Crowe among 14 League of Ireland players in Ireland Under-17 squad

Cork City underage man Oran Crowe is included in Colin O’Brien’s Republic Of Ireland U17 squad for the European Championship qualifying games on Leeside this week.

Ireland will play three games at Turner’s Cross, against Andorra (tomorrow), Montenegro (Friday) and Israel (next Monday), as they bid to advance to the Elite Round of the competition, with the ultimate aim to qualify for the European U17 Championships in Estonia.

City legend O’Brien has named a 20-man squad. Forteeen of the players selected ply their trade with SSE Airtricity League clubs.

Irish U17 boss O’Brien, who spent 13 years on Leeside with Cork City, said: “This is a good team and each of them are here on merit. We’ve been assessing players that have come through our underage teams as well as those playing in the National League.

“We had a double-header in September against a very strong Russia team and that really pleased me and in October we had a training camp and in all we’ve looked at around 40 players. Tayo [Adaramola] joined us for training and I’m pleased that he’ll be a part of the squad.”

O’Brien also spoke about Ireland’s opponents. “You can never under estimate the opposition. You can come up against a nation that has very strong group at underage level so you can’t take anything for granted.

“Andorra, Montenegro and Israel will have different footballing cultures and tournament football presents those challenges. You have to be ready to prepare for a different style in a tight time frame.”

Fans can pay at the turnstiles at Turner’s Cross.

Admission to the games are €5 for adults and free for U16s.

Cork City, Cobh Ramblers and FAI season ticket holders can gain free access to the games by showing their season tickets at the turnstiles.

Republic of Ireland U17 squad:

Goalkeepers: Josh Keeley (St Patrick’s Athletic), Daniel Rose (Everton)

Defenders: Gavin O’Brien (Bohemians), Oisín Hand (Shamrock Rovers), Daragh Reilly (St Patrick’s Athletic), Anselmo Garcia McNulty (Wolfsburg), Leigh Kavanagh (Bray Wanderers) Tayo Adaramola (Crystal Palace).

Midfielders: Colin Conroy (Bohemians), Kyle Conway (St Patrick’s Athletic), Oran Crowe (Cork City), Andrew Moran (Bray Wanderers), Ben McCormack (St Patrick’s Athletic), Olabosun Lawal (Watford)

Forwards: Kailin Barlow (Sligo Rovers), Evan Ferguson (Bohemians), Robert Mahon (Bohemians), Sinclair Armstrong (Shamrock Rovers) Calum Kavanagh (Middlesbrough), Oliver O’Neill (Fulham).


TOMORROW: Ireland v Andorra, Turner’s Cross, 7.30pm.

FRIDAY: Ireland v Montenegro, Turner’s Cross, 7.30pm.

MONDAY: Ireland v Israel, Turner’s Cross, 2pm.

Aaron Connolly a doubt for Ireland’s crucial Euro 2020 qualifier versus Denmark

Aaron Connolly

Aaron Connolly is a doubt for Ireland’s games with New Zealand and Denmark with a groin problem.

The Brighton player suffered the injury in the first half of Brighton’s loss to Manchester United and was replaced at half time.

And, he has now remained in the UK to have a scan rather than join up with the squad.

Boss Mick McCarthy said: “Aaron will have a scan on Monday morning.

“Our medical team have been in contact with Brightonand when we have their results, we will know more.”

His potential absence is a worry for McCarthy who was relieved that the rest of his 28-strong squad all came through the weekend unscathed.

Darren Randolph returned to action after a three-week layoff with a thigh problem to prove his fitness ahead of the game.

Glenn Whelan has also overcome a hamstring problem that forced him off in Hearts’ loss to Rangers last week though he was an unused substitute against St Mirren on Saturday.

McCarthy has also confirmed that Shamrock Rovers star Jack Byrne will face New Zealand on Thursday.

New call-ups Troy Parrott and Lee O’Connor will also see action against New Zealand though McCarthy is expected to keep his regulars in reserve ahead of the must-win Denmark game.

Ireland need to beat the Danes to qualify automatically for Euro 2020 while the visitors are likely to come to Dublin only needing a draw.